In San Diego, the city of Marvel-clad superheroes, Joss Whedon is a god. And not just for The Avengers but Firefly, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Dr. Horrible too. In recent years, the film and TV creator delivered an annual keynote. It’s actually a Q&A with his fans but turns into a homily on everything ranging from Whedon projects, Hollywood antics, life and global politics.
Last year, Whedon skipped his speech at Comic-Con but he was back Saturday, and in a much bigger room, graduating from Ballroom 20’s 5,000 seats to Hall H’s 6,500. “I asked for the big room,” said Whedon, dressed in blue jeans and a flannel shirt.
When Whedon talks (and his fans listen) it’s always with a humble, calm and soft-spoken demeanor. He’s an open book. However, after watching the enthusiastic response from fans, one walks away from a Whedon Comic-Con talk feeling as though they’ve just left an evangelist’s sermon.
Early on, in thanking his fans, he told the assembly that his motto to live by was “Continue to earn what you already have … I’m standing in front of all of you. I’m a writer! I have no business being here and pretending that I’m a rock star.” It sounded like the lyrics from a lost Godspell song.
Fans — and before Whedon took the stage there were already 40 lined up at the microphone — cling to his words of wisdom, the deconstructions of his previous works and the teases to his future projects.
Case in point: The first girl at the mike to ask a question was so emotional, she burst into tears; so thankful to Whedon for breathing life into Firefly character Zoe Washburne. It would be an understatement to say that fanaticism was dripping from the Hall H rafters. Look no farther than the guy who got up to the mike with the T-shirt “In Joss We Trust.” That was just the beginning, because today’s session ended with Whedon receiving the Comic-Con Icon Award by David Glanzer, the confab’s director of marketing and PR; an award which goes to an individual who has been instrumental in the awareness and appreciation of comics and related popular arts (previous honorees include George Lucas, Stan Lee and Ray Bradbury). The crowd leapt to its feet in a 10-minute standing ovation as though Laurence Olivier just delivered his last performance of Hamlet onstage.
Three years ago at Comic-Con, when Whedon was busting box office records with Marvel’s The Avengers (global cume $1.5 billion), he was asked by a fan about the anti-corporate themes in his works and to dispense his economic philosophy in 30 seconds or less. This led to Whedon ranting that America was turning into Tsarist Russia — that we were destined to be “a country of serfs.”
While socialism wasn’t broached today, Whedon did explain his take on the meaning of life after a fan asked: “Many of us gain a lot of peace from your work, even though people exist in non-peaceful situations. My question is: What is the world? What is existence? Why are we here? How can I, and us, feel more sane and purposeful in our own lives? And how do you represent that philosophy in your writing?”
Whedon preached: “The world is a random and meaningless, terrifying place and we all — spoiler alert — die. Most critters are designed not to know that, but we are designed weekly to transcend that. To understand ‘Oh, I can quote myself! This is fun!’ A thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts. What we have right now and right here has as much meaning as anything we’re afraid of. The way we’re designed to do this: The main function of the human brain is storytelling. Memory is storytelling. If we all remembered everything, we’d be Rain Man and wouldn’t be socially happy. We learn to forget. We learn to distort. And from the very beginning we’re learning to tell a story about ourselves. I’m hoping to be the hero of my story. But I’m the annoying sidekick, like Rosie O’Donnell in that Disney Tarzan movie — the weird ape that we don’t know if it’s a girl. … We come here to celebrate exactly that: storytelling and the shared experience that it gives us, how we live with each other. We understand everyone else’s story, and that story will be with us and be controlled by us.”
Whedon also told the crowd today that he finally has down time to work on other projects, ever since he’s unhitched himself from the Avengers. “It’s been a weird time. Five years ago a tornado ripped up my house and dropped it into Marvel,” said Whedon. “I’ve put it off (projects) for 25 years by never not working, and once Ultron was done, I said, ‘OK, what else is there?’ There are a few things I can’t talk about … but I did want to get back to putting my hand to a comic book.”
An image flashed on the screen for the cover of Joss Whedon’s Twist. “It addresses the amoral question that’s been facing us: Why isn’t there a Victorian female Batman?” announced Whedon.
“Everyone is pleased how I handled Natasha,” he said, referring to Scarlett Johansson’s Russian assassin to great woots, at which point he responded, “Yeah, I still got it.”
In regards to the future of Firefly, either a reunion or different iteration, consider it largely a no-go for now: “In a world where Firefly came back … that group, what they go through is something that will fascinate me forever. Put those nine people back on that ship and I don’t need anybody else.”
Later, a fan hit Whedon with the perennial big-money question: When is Dr. Horrible 2 happening? “Everybody wants to do it, everybody is insanely busy. Jed (Whedon) and Maurissa Tancharoen are running S.H.I.E.L.D. Zach (Whedon) is up in Canada directing his first movie, which is exciting, and Neil (Patrick Harris) is doing everything and hosting a show about the thing he did. I saw him after he did Hedwig and it was the first thing out of his mouth, ‘When are we doing it? We’re all looking for that space.'”
However, to the delight of this crowd, time is back on Whedon’s side, enough so to cultivate his cult brand. In fact, right now would be a perfect time for him to make Dr. Horrible 2. “I’m unemployed!” exclaimed Whedon. “But nobody else is.”